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Where am I?

I’ve been on a self-appointed sabbatical but I will soon be back with more material from my archives and other material that I hope will be of interest.

In the meantime, I hope you will join me at Sharon’s life stories, which is just what it promises to be. I’ve introduced the stories saying, in part:

The stories I’m telling here are about me. They are, therefore, mostly of interest to me — and to my family and perhaps to my friends.

On the other hand, if I tell them well enough, maybe they’ll be of universal interest and even if you’ve stumbled upon them by accident, you’ll say, “What a good story!” and you’ll come back and read some more. Even if you don’t say, “What a good story!” I’m pretty sure, at some point, you’ll say, “That happened to me too.” Or maybe you’ll say, “I once had a friend/teacher/neighbour like that.”

I hope if you do, you’ll come back and check out the stories now and then.

I’ll look forward to seeing you, in both places.

Happy New Year

One of my many New Year’s resolutions — yes, many! — is to show up here more often. I have decided to tell some stories of my life. Some of them are pretty good stories; I hope I can do them justice.

Meanwhile, I hope 2012 is a great year for everyone.


White roses

Maxine Tynes, only 62, passed away earlier this week. I knew I had published a piece about her here but because I’ve been very neglectful of my website recently, I didn’t realize how long ago it was.

And I didn’t realize it was the very last thing I’d posted here — for African History Month.

I interviewed Maxine several times, once for a cover story in Atlantic Insight. She was a wonderful interview, an expressive and exuberant personality — always quotable — and she was a powerful and imaginative and compelling poet.

Several of her wonderful books of poetry were launched at Red Herring, the much-missed co-operative bookstore in downtown Halifax.

The piece I published in February is right here. I’m going to read it again. I hope you do too.

(February is African History Month. This is a piece from my archives, first published in 1993.)

Maxine Tynes
(Maxine Tynes)

Maxine Tynes was born and raised in Dartmouth, where her heritage goes back to the time of the Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia. She is a graduate of Dalhousie University and was a high school teacher of English. She has done freelance broadcast work both regionally and nationally.

Maxine is a poet and author. Among her books are: Borrowed Beauty; Woman Talking Woman; Save the World for Me; and The Door of My Heart.

Borrowed Beauty tynes_woman talking woman Door of my Heart.

She has been named the Milton Acorn People’s Poet of Canada and the Dartmouth Regional Library has named a room in her honour.

She has been awarded an honourary doctorate of human letters by Mount Saint Vincent University and was awarded the Governor General’s Canada 125 medal in recognition of contribution to Canada, to compatriots and to community. She was the first Canadian of African descent to be named a member of the Board of Governors of Dalhousie University.

I interviewed her in the Maxine Tynes Room at the Alderney Gate Library in Dartmouth.

Maxine: I’m one of those Maritimers who will never move very far away from home. I grew up right here beside the railway, just a stone’s throw from where we’re sitting in this library. It was a very good place to grow up, in the heart of downtown Dartmouth.

There was a lot a traffic in and out of our house because we were so central. All of the neighbourhood kids congregated at the Tynes’ house. My mother knew where her kids were every minute of the day. It didn’t matter if she was thinking about her six-month-old, her 16-year-old or her 26-year-old, or her 36-year-old, she knew precisely where each was at all times.

My father worked at the shipyard which meant it was a five minute walk to work, down the track and around the corner. There was a lot of traffic home with him. He brought the world through our front door to our dinner table – daily, weekly, nightly, yearly. He was a big, gregarious man, he loved life, and people just naturally took to him.

You could imagine an environment like the shipyard, where people were coming from the four corners of the world for short stays or long stays for boat repair and there was this man who always made it his business to meet and greet the stranger. It didn’t matter to him that this Captain spoke Greek or French or Russian.

My mother, on the other hand, was juggling a dozen children plus this man and plus whomever else he brought home. But like all good Maritime women or probably all working-class women, that pot is bottomless and endless. You know, we Maritimers, we’ll throw an extra fish in, a few potatoes and onions in, and the chowder feeds the multitudes.

And so what convinced me that I would be able to speak and write and string poems together and actually have people read them and want to read them and ask for more?

Early days told me many things before I was conscious of the telling: we always had to make every day count and my mother, probably like your mother, most people’s mothers had all these little homilies and little lessons about life, these little philosophies that she would drop upon our head as easily as she would pull on a stocking cap or braid up our hair at night and so time and again we heard things like, “if something’s worth doing it’s worth doing well,” “if you don’t believe in yourself nobody else will,” “if you don’t take a chance you won’t know what you can do and what you cannot do,” and always, “try, do your best and nobody can ask any more than that.”

Most wonderful things that have been planted in your mind, in your little childhood heart and soul, you probably felt it was going in one ear and out the other. But for somebody who would put pen to paper eventually, it meant that I have instilled within me an intrinsic belief in self. While I was tightly reined in with the rest of the brood, in a sense my parents offered a kind of freedom that is hard to come by: the freedom to think for oneself and believe in oneself, as long as you feel you’re doing and saying the right thing to the best of your ability.

The family has disintegrated. Our parents knew our lives intimately: who we got connected with; what we got from that; what changes we went through as a result of being exposed to these young people or to those.

The railway track had to be no more than eight metres from my back door. But a dozen children could be raised in that proximity to these huge leviathans and not one hurt, not one maimed – not even a fear or threat, because my parents had eyes everywhere, all the time, and we were trained to have eyes on each other.

But it was more than that. While they were saying watch out for the little ones, where are the little ones, where’s your sister, where’s your brother – the message was we care about you, we care for each other, I’m responsible for you, but you in turn are responsible for the one younger than you. You could always count on someone older than you knowing where you were and reaching out that hand to catch you before you fell.

What I don’t see in young people today is that safety net. When you see, out of necessity, single mums or struggling partners sending their children out to a caregiver so they can pay the mortgage or dress and feed their children, children develop a different ethic – to whom are they accountable? to Mom and Dad? They love Mom and Dad, Mom and Dad love them, but then there’s a third party in there.

So by the time they’re in elementary school, then junior, then senior, more and more their personal time is given to them to entertain themselves, to put their own brakes on, to make those value judgments. Who is controlling the moral atmosphere, the atmosphere in which they develop values? It’s out of necessity but there’s a price to pay for that – I didn’t have to pay that price.

I was a child, I was a little girl, when I started writing. I was reading voraciously and then I started writing. I don’t remember my first poem. I remember the first stories that I wrote – they were stories I would have written when I was in elementary school, probably in grades three and four.

I would get my star on the essay and then I’d get the willies because invariably my teacher would want me to read it in class which didn’t bother me but then she would take me around to the other grade fours and then the grade fives and then the grade sixes so you can imagine the pressure on a little kid to do that. It was wonderful, but it was unnerving at the same time.

I guess it stimulated that desire within me, but even before school stimulated it, my Mom did. I was a sick kid when I was very young – I had a couple years off school, I had polio in the ’50s – so my mother took charge of everything. She rallied me around and also took care of my early education – best teacher I ever had. I know that I model myself as a teacher after my Mom. And she gave me this love of words and reading.

For me as a writer, it’s important to add to the growing and burgeoning store house of developing African Canadian literature and North American literature produced by those from African culture. I don’t have children but I am leaving writings behind that will mark my place and that will illuminate and amplify the fact that we are a culture too and that we were here. People over historical time have been eradicated, have been exploited, have been displaced, but their art remains; sometimes, it remains in its pure sense.

Like all writers and all artists, there’s something in me that drives this thing to be done – this writing, this poetry, this literary voice – that is subconscious, but there is also a conscious drive and that is the sense of self as black woman in the world who wants to speak this womanist, feminist vision and philosophy and dialectic, who needs to speak from black culture, to look behind me and where I find blank trails to turn to myself to create some, to lay down a path of my own with the story and the poem.

I feel a strong connection to Africa. It’s a feeling of being connected and disconnected at the same time. It’s a sense of having a foot firmly in the past and feeling impotent, probably almost a rage, that the disconnection was made for me. This thing was done to me generations ago without any sense of cultural control and so I look at a map and I see this continent that is truly mine and there’s another sense of displacement that moves in – the continent is mine but where and when will I be able to claim it?

bleeding hearts cropped for web

(Today is Valentine’s Day and I have gone to my archives for a look at love and marriage. This column was first published on September 17, 1989. I suspect things have not changed too much.)

I’m interested to see that the Advisory Council on the Status of Women is doing a study in provincial high schools to find out if young women have a realistic view of their futures. In similar studies done elsewhere, the Council has discovered that many young women believe in the mystique of a Prince Charming who will come into their lives.

“But the reality is,” says researcher Jane Wright, “that many women are living in poverty and are single parents.”

A few years ago, I did a series of articles about women in marriages, all of whom had married — or were about to get married — at a young age.

My first question to the engaged girls was always, “What do you expect to get from your marriage?”

Without any exceptions, the answers were individual variations on: “Well, I’d just like us to have a nice life together.”

On further questioning, I discovered that most of the young couples had no sense of shared interests or life goals, and the majority had never discussed the question of having children and how they would fit into the fantasy life that seemed to prevail in youthful girlish minds.

From what I could gather, the “nice life together” that the brides-to-be envisioned included vague romantic ideas of dining by candlelight looking like a picture in a magazine, strolling on Sunday walks through crackling fall leaves, and taking annual vacations aboard the Love Boat, dancing under tropical stars.

There was little knowledge about the part money plays in young married life (or old married life for that matter) and there had been no discussion about finances.

I went back to interview one of the brides a year after her marriage. She hadn’t yet given up but she was disillusioned. The candlelight dinner — if it ever got off the ground — had given way to a quick scoff in front of the television with reruns of Three’s Company. The romantic Sunday strolls were spent at the ballpark where the groom was either playing or practising. The Love Boat had been sunk by a wild trip to Montreal that the groom had taken with his buddies to see the Expos play.

When I interviewed her for the second time, it was mid-winter, she had a new baby, and she was feeling quite optimistic about the future but still fantasizing. She hated the time he spent playing ball and going on ball trips and she had wrung a promise out of him that he’d quit the next season. I felt sorry that she had gone that far and I pointed out that she had known before the marriage that he was a zealous ballplayer.

“Yes, I did,” she said sadly, “but I thought he’d change after we got married. I thought he wouldn’t need baseball any more.”

The marriage did break up — of course — but it wasn’t because of baseball. It was because the young couple had never been realistically prepared for their life together. He went out west and worked in oil and made a lot of money; she remained in her home town with the two children and lived on social assistance.

I also interviewed the prospective grooms, by the way. I found in most cases that they had given little thought, romantic or otherwise, to their impending change in status. The reason is probably as old as the institution of marriage itself: men view marriage as the context in which they will pursue whatever in life interests them, whether it be a career, sports, friends, hobbies or community service.

Too many young women still view marriage as an end in itself.

Midwives are back in the news in Nova Scotia. Whenever that happens, we can assume there is something that’s not going smoothly in the world of midwifery.

In the nursing community, we always knew that one of the reasons midwifery could not gain a solid foothold as part of the health care solution was that the medical establishment was not willing to share its power. The reason we don’t enjoy widespread use of nurse practictioners is a symptom of the same power struggle.

This is a column I wrote about midwives and midwifery which was published on October 14, 1990. I have edited it only to remove an event that was held the weekend this appeared.

Childbirth, just taken on its own, not knowing anything about the circumstances of mother or baby, is one of the most earth-shaking experiences to watch. You notice I say “watch.” I have never given birth (my son is adopted) but during my nursing career, I observed many births – dozens, I suppose, or maybe scores. Each one had such a profound effect on me that, to this day, I can be brought to tears when Sondra Huxtable (the oldest of The Cosby Show daughters) gives birth to twins in a situation comedy.

I trained at the Montreal General Hospital but each year, a couple of General students, did the obstetrics/gynaecological affiliation at the Women’s Pavilion of the Royal Victoria Hospital. I was one of them. There were many, many babies born there every day.

Royal Vic
(The Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal)

It seems hard to believe but at that time (it was only the ’60s) second year students were left alone to work on the post-partum wards. We were always told that if we needed help, we should run down the hall to the delivery rooms where the nurses in charge would be glad to help us out. The delivery room nurses, as far as I can remember, were all from Great Britain, all trained as midwives, all answerable to all levels of the medical hierarchy, none allowed to deliver babies on her own.

One night, alone on our ward, I looked in on Mrs. X who had been admitted because of her age (40-something) but had not yet delivered. Mrs. X was expecting her ninth baby. It was around two in the morning and she told me she was in labour and I should be ready to call the doctor and get her down the hall. I called the nursing supervisor.

Minutes later the supervisor called me back and told me she had spoken to the doctor (an intern, on call that night) and he said there was no possible way Mrs. X could be in labour – he had seen her a couple of hours before – and I was to give her half a grain of codeine for her pain. Well, I might have been only a second year student but it didn’t sound right to me and I refused to do it – on solid ground, since technically, I wasn’t allowed to administer a drug unless the doctor came to the floor and put it in writing.

So the supervisor came down and gave Mrs. X the codeine. Within minutes, Mrs. X called me and told me the baby was coming. I learned many useful things as a nurse, perhaps none of them more useful or certain than this: when a mother – particularly one who has already delivered eight times – says the baby is coming, the chances are pretty good that the baby is coming.

I did almost nothing. I prepared a sterile field for the arrival, put on some sterile gloves and waited a minute. When the little baby appeared – small and premature – I put him on his mother’s tummy and ran like hell to the delivery room to get a midwife. She came, delivered the placenta, hustled off with mother and child and left me with shaky knees to deal with the paperwork, cleaning up, explaining to doctors etc.

A few weeks later, when I had finished my ward work and moved on to the premature nursery, one of my first tiny patients was Baby X. In his admission notes, I read, “Admitted on the night of … suffering from acute codeine intoxication.” (Babies get their intravenous fluid through the veins in their forehead and so his little head had been shaved except for a fringe around his ears. The permanent nursery staff called him Friar Tuck.)

I thought of that little baby a lot over the next several years – and his dear experienced mother, who knew her baby was coming, knew what had to be done, tried to reject the offer of codeine for her pain. I thought of the delivery room nurses, who knew so much more about pregnancy, labour and delivery than the medical students and interns who were entrusted with these important responsibilities, the nurse/midwives who felt such anger and frustration when they ran up against a case like little Friar Tuck.

It’s interesting that every time a midwife-attended birth doesn’t go as planned, you can read about it in every newspaper, hear about it on every newscast, see it taken to court. But when inexperienced interns and medical students put a new baby and its mother at risk, it’s simply seen as part of the education process. When busy obstetricians choose to do Caesarean Sections for their own convenience, it’s just another case of doctor-knows-best.

I’ll be watching the mid-wife and mid-wifery issues here and will keep you posted.


At the very end of 1990, Dan and I left Halifax for Europe. This is one of the columns I wrote about that trip. It was published in The Daily News on January 15, 1991.

As midnight begins to strike on December 31 in Madrid’s central square, the Puerto del Sol, the lights are lowered and silence falls over the thousands of people gathered there. In accordance with an old tradition, each person eats one green grape at each stroke. The feeling of anticipation and tremendous excitement builds and builds and finally, at the last stroke, pandemonium erupts.

A large ball of light drops from the clock tower, a volley of fireworks fills the sky, champagne corks pop and plastic champagne flutes appear instantly out of pockets, everyone hugs and kisses and cheers and dances, and a sign of lights spells out Feliz Ano Nuevo – Happy New Year.

This year, to make the scene almost unbelievably perfect, there was a bright, beautiful full moon looking down on it all. This year also, my husband Dan and I were among the thousands in the Puerto del Sol and we both have to say, it was our most exciting New Year’s Eve ever.

We had arrived in Madrid only a couple of hours before, on a plane from Amsterdam with only about eight other people. The Madrid airport was dim and nearly empty and we dragged ourselves sleepily through it as befits two travellers who had left Halifax nearly 24 hours before and had not been to bed for a day and a half.

What a difference a couple of hours can make.

The taxi driver who took us downtown assured us that we wouldn’t sleep a wink that night because of the fiesta; after all, our hotel fronted directly on the square where all the festivities would occur. We didn’t expect to have any trouble sleeping but, truly, we became more and more awake as we got closer to the action.

Christmas lights Madrid

The Christmas lights in central Madrid were dazzling – large garlands of lights strung across the wide boulevards, every street with a different pattern of Santas, bells, candles. Lights were entwined in the branches of all the big trees along the streets, many businesses and institutions displayed elaborate and very beautiful manger scenes.

After we’d checked in to the hotel, Dan went out to see if we could get some champagne. He was back in minutes to report that they were selling champagne on the streets. Later when we both went out, we discovered that champagne was just one of the things being sold on the streets – there were temporary booths and tables of green grapes, ice cream and popcorn, scarves and belts, purses, cigarettes and lottery tickets.

New Years Eve Madrid

(This is a generic photo of Puerto del Sol on New Year’s Eve but that’s our hotel in the background, with the Tio Pepe sign on top.)

The crowds gathered through all the surrounding streets and a most interesting crowd it was. There were babes in arms, toddlers and little children dressed in their best, young couples in gowns, full-length fur coats and tuxedos, casually dressed parents and teens in jeans, grandmothers and grandfathers dressed sedately for a big evening out.

After the big finale, it was a party we hated to leave but good sense prevailed and, contrary to our taxi driver’s prediction, we had no trouble at all having a sound night’s sleep.

We went out on New Year’s Day expecting to see the kind of deserted streets we’d see in Canada on a holiday – but not in Spain. The Spaniards spend much of their lives outside their homes and they were certainly out on Jan. 1, 1991. Many were just having their regular walk – the paseo; others were checking out the wares of the vendors who were back in the streets and in the squares; still others were crowded into noisy bars and restaurants. Spaniards are a very social people and there are many occasions to be turned into social events – from morning cafe con leche to the very late-evening dinners they’re famous for.

Later on New Year’s Day, we went to an ancient church in central Madrid. As the concept of queuing is simply unknown in Spain (or at least unpractised, unless they’re buying lottery tickets), it was interesting to see that the people who wished to take communion simply advanced to the altar in clusters and took their chances. It appeared that everyone was taken care of, however. (While they were up taking communion, other people would come and take their seats but no one seemed to mind.)

I’ve been to Spain many times since the first time I went there in 1970, over 20 years ago. I’ve always said that I go because I like the climate, I like the landscape and I like the people.

There have been many changes in the country since then but, fortunately, some things never change: the climate, the landscape and, at least in the superficial ways that I was able to observe on a short vacation, the people. They remain gregarious and outgoing, treating somewhat timid Canadian strangers the way they treat each other, living their lives loudly and unself-consciously.

I suppose that’s why they know how to throw a great New Year’s Eve party and altogether, it was an unforgettable experience to ring in 1991 with so many of them.

(I have returned to my archives for a look at another Christmas Past. This column was published on December 23, 1990.)

Fruit cake

It’s impossible to turn around these days without someone asking if we’re all ready for Christmas. Well, my answer is “certainly not.” After all, there are still a few days/hours left.

I don’t panic, however, because I come from a tradition of not being ready for Christmas – and I mean, really not being ready. My mother was a teacher and all you teachers know that December is just about the busiest time of the year. I used to be a community newspaper editor and all you community newspaper editors know that December is the busiest time of the year.

Come to think of it, in many occupations, December is the busiest time of the year. Don’t ask me why.

This year, I had white and dark fruit cakes made before the end of October. It’s always a goal; in fact, it’s written on my calendar. But I do remember one year arriving at my parents’ home for Christmas to find that no fruit cakes had been made, so I set about making them on Christmas Eve. They were good – they lasted until about April too, and just got better and better. I expect that was the same year that we made the mince pies on Boxing Day.

My sister and I often used to finish decorating the house after Christmas too. We always managed to have the living room and the tree completed by Christmas Eve but the day after, there was plenty of stuff to do around the other rooms – hang up the cards, set up the nativity scene and the little village, loop some garlands around the windows.

One year, I remember arriving home to the usual hectic scene and discovering – on Christmas Eve – that we had no turkey. This time, it was pure oversight. Poor Mum really believed that there was a turkey in the freezer. So we set out on a quest for turkey. I’m pretty sure it was Sunday because the major stores were closed and the smaller stores just didn’t have a turkey.

We had pretty well concluded we’d have to have a meatloaf for Christmas dinner when we decided to phone an old family friend who still owned part of an old-fashioned downtown grocery store. He came down on a cold and snowy Christmas Eve and opened his store to find us a turkey in his cooler.

Thank goodness. I love turkey. I can never understand it when I hear people saying they’re going to have roast beef or roast lamb for Christmas dinner. Not me.

When my sister’s children were small, naturally we spent the whole night of Christmas Eve putting together toys that came with about a million parts accompanied by incomprehensible instructions. After the kids were in bed, my sister would have to drive to the school where she was vice-principal and get the boxes and boxes that she’d stashed in her office.

Then after our parents were in bed (deception all around), we’d open some smuggled-in wine – there was no alcohol in our parents’ home – which seemed to make those inane instructions a little easier to follow. Or at least it made trying to follow them a little more fun.

We’d finish about four in the morning, we’d look at the beautiful tree and the toys and the stockings and just for a minute, we’d believe that Santa had been there while our backs were turned.

And that’s how I still feel. I like Christmas very much and I never consider it drudgery to get ready for it – even if I am usually late.

But I know that Christmas is not an easy or enjoyable time for many people and mostly, it’s just a relief to get it over with. I keep hoping that if only there could be a safe and secure place for everyone, then someday, Christmas will again live up to its promise of peace and happiness.

Let’s hope it’s soon.

How can people say — and seem to really believe — that war is not romanticized, sentimentalized, glorified? Remembrance Day has now become Remembrance Week. Some people start wearing poppies before the end of October. The airwaves are choked with story after story about the wars. I have no objection — of course — to stories and memories but the stories are told, so often, with such affectionate nostalgia.

Those of us who speak against wars are shushed, especially on November 11, or we’re told that it is these wars (even the one in Afghanistan!) that have guaranteed our freedom to speak openly.

As many others are, I am moved by the faces of the elderly veterans on November 11 and that’s a little sentimental. I really dislike the false equivalency that tosses all the wars in the same basket and I am not at all impressed by antics such as the recent one at an Ontario Legion, which puts a bit of tarnish on the veterans’ organization.

Let’s just say that, to me, the observance of Remembrance Day has been appropriated and turned into a tool of propaganda and I have come to resent its tone and what it has come to represent.

What follows is a column I wrote in November, 20 years ago. The war-in-preparation that I refer to in this column was the First Gulf War.

(This is a poppy watercolour painting project that Calgary artist Gail Bartel did with a grade 1 and 2 class.)

The love of war, the glory of war

November 9, 1990

We were talking last week about Remembrance Days of our pasts; my outstanding memories — with years all melded together — involve standing in Elm Park in Chatham, N.B. (when the elms were still there), freezing half to death. It always seemed to be an overcast day with a little snow on the ground, about an inch, the frozen November grass showing through just to add to the general bleakness.

There were veterans and the ladies’ auxiliary from the legion, high school cadets, the town’s band — it was pretty good too — and the usual dignitaries. We sang Abide With Me and the bugler played the Last Post and they solemnly read the names of all the people who hadn’t come back from the wars and laid the wreaths. The whole town seemed to turn out.

Pretty typical, I guess, just like any other small town in Canada on November 11.

Years later, my friend Margaret wrote a prize-winning newspaper column which was headlined “Time to stop glorifying war.” She felt that the further off the big wars were, the more people seem inclined to use words like “glorious victory” and “brave fighting men.” Her intention was not to dishonour the memory of anyone who had fought in the wars but no matter — she was censured from pulpits, strongly reproached by the local legion, and many people cancelled their subscriptions to the paper.

Margaret lives in Germany now so she isn’t following the current call to war as closely as we’re able to — particularly thanks to all the Canadian journalists (including local ones from our two television news shows) who are sending back reports from their vantage points aboard the Canadian navy ships.

One of the favourite slogans of the women’s peace movement is “Take the toys from the boys.” Never has it seemed more appropriate as we learn in such enthusiastic terms how well the guns are working during the daily tests, as we read the poetic language the journalists are using to describe the “aloof, sleek” CF-18 jet fighters and the pure affection with which they write about the aging Sea King helicopters — “a noisy, vibrating bird,” one wrote.

Well, propaganda is not a new device, for sure, and it’s certainly effective. Even now, little boys are running about making helicopter noises or dropping imaginary bombs on the head of the latest Evil Incarnate, Saddam Hussein, not unlike many earlier generations of boys who hoped against hope that the war of the moment would last long enough for them to get a crack at it.

The love of war — the romance of war — the glory of war have all been expounded for a long time.

Men grow tired of sleep, love, singing and dancing sooner than of war. (Homer: Iliad XIII).

Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war! (Shakespeare: Othello I.i.).

War, that mad game the world so loves to play. (Jonathan Swift: Ode to Sir William Temple).

But this year, 1990, as we accept the possibility of war in the Middle East, also marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of the pacifist organization, Voice of Women for Peace. It might be a good time to remember some of the words from its constitution, adopted in 1961.

  • To unite women in concern for the future of the world;
  • To help promote the mutual respect and co-operation among nations necessary for peaceful negotiations between world powers;
  • To protest against war or the threat of war as the decisive method of exercising power;
  • To appeal to all national leaders to co-operate in developing methods of negotiations;
  • To appeal to all national leaders to co-operate in the alleviation of the causes of war by common action for the economic and social betterment of all people;
  • To provide a means for women to exercise responsibility for the family of humankind.
  • May their voices be heard loudly and strongly this Remembrance Day. Peace, dear sisters.

    How about this? If I were a really stupid driver, I would damn well leave the car in the driveway and take a cab. How would I know if I were a really stupid driver? Let me count the ways.

    I was at a stop sign, signalling a left turn on to a busy street during rush hour. The cars were coming along in both directions, often at awkwardly-spaced intervals. A driver two cars back was leaning on his horn — beeeep beeeeep — to the point that I wish now I had put my car in Park, turned off the ignition, walked back to him and said, sternly, with no question mark implied, “What!”

    I could have said, “Listen, you moron, from where I’m sitting, I’m the one who can judge whether I’m going to pull out into traffic. While you were beeping, I had a bus coming in one direction and I couldn’t see around it, to see if there was traffic in the other lane. I had a pedestrian and two bicycles crossing in front of me at the same time as there was a slight break in the traffic. I know when it is safe — for me and everyone else — to proceed and blowing your bleeping horn is not going to make any difference!”

    Should I have done it? He was such a hothead, he probably would have hit me. Maybe with this:


    While I’m on the subject, are you one of those people who sits in the middle lane at a red light and then, when the light changes, you put your left turn signal on and hold up a long line behind you — who had no idea you were going to turn? Would it kill you to signal before the traffic builds behind you? Try using the rule of Doug Bethune, CBC Radio Maritime Noon’s expert on “automotive matters.” Doug says to put your signal light on before you start to brake when you’re approaching a stop sign/red light and you plan to turn left. I try — and it’s not very hard — to practice what Doug preaches.

    Another thing that shouldn’t be very hard is turning from one street on to another. In, oh I don’t know, about 99 per cent of the cases, the angle of that turn is going to be around 90 degrees. Try to remember that! Stop cutting across the top of the street you’re turning into, hoping that you’ll save a few feet of travel, meanwhile causing me to slam my brakes on and you to swerve foolishly to miss hitting me as I’m innocently approaching the stop sign!

    slow down

    This is the sign (read “highway” instead of “freeway”) that I would like to see in Sobey’s parking lot. In most parking lots, in fact. What is wrong with you people? It’s a parking lot! Why can’t I push my shopping cart from the store back to my car without taking my life in my hands? Are you really in that much of a hurry or do you just like the sound of your tires squealing as you tear around from one aisle of the lot to the next. If anyone’s doing a survey, put me down in favour of speed bumps. Signs, unfortunately, don’t work.

    Before we leave the parking lot (and I’m going to include this even though my sweet husband is sometimes one of the offenders): Stop wasting everybody’s time by trying to back into that parking space while the rest of us are forced to sit there in a pathetic and growing line-up watching as you shunt around, trying to get ‘er straightened out, completely oblivious to the traffic that can’t get past while you indulge this whim! It doesn’t make any sense anyway. You’re at the grocery store/mall/Canadian Tire! Chances are, you’ll want access to your trunk when you come out. Why not park so your trunk is closer and your life will be easier?

    That’s all. You know who you are so smarten up. (And please feel free to tell me what bugs you out there on the streets and highways.)

    P.S. You will have noticed that I didn’t attribute any gender characteristics to these bad driving habits — maybe with the exception of referring to “my sweet husband.” However, here is an article on the subject from a newspaper in Bangalore, of all places, that amused me.

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